While diversity and inclusion have been at the forefront of many companies’ agendas for the past few years, the need to embrace neurodiversity in the workplace is only just gaining the recognition it deserves. The unique set of skills and talents possessed by employees with neurodiversity such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD is starting to be fully understood and recognised, with many describing their abilities as a ‘superpower’. This superpower includes the ability to think creatively ‘outside of the box’, identify patterns in big data, and hyper focus. Katie Harris, Senior Associate and Gemma Nelis, Trainee explain more.
The significant benefits that neurodiverse employees can contribute to the workforce have been gravely overlooked in the past. While neuro-diverse individuals have tremendous and often overlooked abilities, they also have very specific needs which are often misunderstood. As neurodiversity is (in most cases) considered a ‘disability’ under the Equality Act 2010, this lack of understanding can lead to disability discrimination claims, such as a recent claim brought against Marks and Spencer by an employee with dyslexia which we report on later.
However, all is not lost, as GCHQ and BAE Systems are leading the way towards promoting neurodiversity and illustrating the vast benefits neurodiverse individuals can offer a business. GCHQ has recently commenced a recruitment drive specifically targeted towards women with autism, ADHD and dyslexia. In a recent article published by the Guardian, Code First Girls, a social enterprise working with both GCHQ and BAE Systems, said that employers are looking for neurodivergent women in particular for cybersecurity roles that require “fast pattern recognition, sharper accuracy and greater attention to detail”. GCHQ started specifically recruiting neurodiverse individuals in 2019, and has stated that some of their most talented and creative people have a neurodiverse profile. This has been further confirmed by JP Morgan who found that autistic individuals in its Autism at Work initiative were 90 to 140 percent more productive and made fewer mistakes than its neurotypical employees.
Organisations seeking to recruit neurodiverse individuals have upped their game by adjusting their recruitment practices to better suit the needs of neurodiverse individuals, as well as offering tools to help them including software to map out thought processes or projects, noise cancelling headphones and voice to text or text to voice software. Adjustments need not be expensive or substantial, but they do need to be tailored as far as possible to the needs of the individual. Employers must remember that neurodiversity is a spectrum, and what works for one individual may not work for all.
So where did Marks and Spencer go wrong?
In 2020, as part of a wider redundancy process, Marks and Spencer (M&S) made Rita Jandu redundant. During the redundancy selection process, M&S assessed Ms Jandu against several criteria including the consistency and accuracy of Ms Jandu’s communications and written work. This was despite M&S being aware that Ms Jandu, like 16 percent of other adults in the UK, had dyslexia. Ms Jandu attributed these raised concerns to her dyslexia stating that it affects her reading and writing and the speed at which she can write an email. Prior to the redundancy process, Ms Jandu had further requested for specific adjustments to be implemented, such as the colour-coding of long emails and assistance with proof-reading. These had not been changed. The tribunal found that M&S had failed to make reasonable adjustments to assist Ms Jandu and had ignored the impact that her dyslexia had on her work. As such, Ms Jandu was successful in her claims of disability discrimination and unfair dismissal and was awarded over £50,000.
It seems M&S need to take a page out of GCHQ’s and BAE Systems’ book on how to promote neurodiversity in its workforce. Both are looking not only to address gaps in their workforce, but to take full advantage of the skills that the currently untapped pool of neurodiverse workers can provide. This recognition of conditions as being skills in themselves is essential for business success and quite literally, as GCHQ’s director of strategy, policy and engagement, Jo Cavan, said “key to keeping Britain safe”. It’s not always easy to recognise someone with a neurodiverse condition, but creating a culture where these superheroes feel safe enough to reveal their secret identities is crucial if we want to fully understand the enormous potential they can offer, and harness their hidden powers.
Hopefully, more organisations will follow in their steps and further winners will be declared. However, no article is complete without a word of caution, namely, inclusivity and equality within the workforce is just as important as diversity.
Boyes Turner regularly advise both employers and employees on supporting neurodiversity in the workplace, and can assist when things go wrong or assist with manager and leadership legal training. If you’d like a call to discuss, please get in touch by contacting Katie Harris (Senior Associate) at [email protected].
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.